Rethinking the Hall of Fame: Part Two Pitchers

In part one of this series I took a look at the concept of a bigger Hall by examining position players. Here, I’ll look at pitchers.

This project came about because earlier this year a few baseball writers including myself set out to make our personal Hall of Fames. We started from scratch and built our own Halls from there. The results varied somewhat but we all pretty much stuck within the current guidelines of the actual Hall.

I had the smallest personal Hall with “just” 174 players enshrined in it. Bryan O’Connor who runs the Replacement Level blog (not related to this site) put 184 players in his. Dan McCloskey who runs the Left Field blog put 185 in his, and Adam Darowski who runs the invaluable Hall of Fame site Hall of Stats put 200 in his personal Hall.

We all agreed that there were more mistakes by admission than omission. I even wrote this piece on 62 Hall of Famers that don’t belong there.

With Deacon White, there are now 208 players enshrined in the Hall of Fame because of their MLB playing careers. 146 position players, 62 pitchers. 5 of those pitchers are relievers.

But since my initial pass I’ve been wondering if I did it all wrong. If I let an ingrained bias of what the Hall should or shouldn’t be affect my decision making process too much. What if the Hall of Fame of was bigger instead of smaller? Would that really be such a bad thing? I’m not so sure.

Methodology:

I have no interest in punishing players for their off-field transgressions, gambling habits, or use of performance enhancing drugs. I think Pete Rose and Barry Bonds should both be in the Hall of Fame, and that the Hall should acknowledge both of their baseball sins. The Hall of Fame is essentially about legacy. Steroid use is part of Bonds’ legacy, and so is being a great player. Bonds will always be associated with illegal steroids regardless if he ever gets into the Hall or not. I think the Hall, a museum, should reflect the history of the game. The game was segregated for years; nothing compromised the authenticity of statistics or the integrity of the game more than that. Gambling was rampant in the early 20th century, and PED use inflated statistics for many players in the early 90’s and 00’s. To me a Hall of Fame without those players is incomplete. My Hall has no character clause; it includes all of the scoundrels whose on-field accomplishments justify their inclusions.

As for numbers, I’m a stat geek. I looked at every number from the basic counting ones (hits & RBI) to the more advanced (wOBA, WPA, wRC+) to make my decisions on who’s in and out. I have been known to include multiple spreadsheets in posts before but for the purpose of this exercise (and for saving space and sanity) I’m just going to use two metrics; WAR & WAA. Wins Above Replacement is a reasonable estimate of a player’s career value. Wins Above Average is reasonable gauge of a player’s peak value. That’s essentially what any Hall of Fame is. Enshrinement to a Hall of Fame is finding the right combination of career and peak value. The all-time greats have both but many players have short peaks of dominance without longevity, or long productive careers without the dominance. I think there is a place for both types of players in this Hall of Fame; however I favor the peak performers.

This isn’t a Hall of Fame based entirely on numbers; there is plenty of subjectivity here as well. Some of the borderline players were helped by a variety of things including fame, historical importance, post season success, and in a few cases their overall contributions to the game.

Pre-1900 (Pitchers who started their careers before 1900)

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I added seven pitchers from this era (McCormick, Bond, Buffinton, Mullane, Griffith, Spalding, Hahn) and only removed two (Chesbro, Welch).

This era of pitchers is tough to classify. Not only did they pitch their entire careers in a segregated league when the game was still in its infancy but many of them also pitched during a time when the pitcher’s mound was closer to the batters (50 feet). MLB didn’t allow overhand deliveries of pitches until 1884, the mound was put at its current distance of sixty feet six inches in 1893. Given all of that there should probably be fewer of these guys in the Hall, not more. Perhaps I over populated this era; but this is a big Hall and I didn’t want to ignore these players either.

Jim McCormick stands out from the rest of the players I added. He is a member of the exclusive 70 WAR/40 WAA group. He is the only player I added from this cluster that I could classify as a tier two player.

Please note that Al Spalding and Clark Griffith are both in the actual Hall of Fame but are recognized as executives. I’m putting them in as players. Spalding only pitched for seven seasons; during which he threw 2886.1 innings and compiled a WAR of 52.2, which is insane. His ERA+ of 132 is a nice number well above Hall of Fame standards as well.

Griffith perhaps wasn’t as good as Spalding but he was a durable pitcher who pitched in parts of 20 seasons. His ERA+ is an impressive 121.

Both guys were big contributors to the game off the field however both were also good enough to get recognized for their playing ability on it; especially in a Hall this big.

1900-1919 (Pitchers who started their careers between 1900-1919)

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I added four pitchers from this era (Cicotte, Shocker, Rucker, Wood) and removed seven (Rixey, Hoyt, Grimes, Pennock, Bender, Haines, Marquard).

This era produced some of the “worst” pitchers in the Hall of Fame. Haines and Marquard were both selected by the Veterans Committee led by their former teammate Frankie Frisch.  Frisch was big on cronyism and is responsible for many of the “worst” players in the Hall of Fame.

Good news for Eddie Cicotte, this Hall has no character clause. Cicotte was one of the principal figures in the 1919 Black Sox gambling scandal. Throwing the World Series is certainly part of Cicotte’s legacy but it shouldn’t be all of it. He was a dominant pitcher during his time too. Put him in and acknowledge his part in the scandal.

Smoky Joe Wood is admittedly one of the more questionable selections I made. He has the lowest WAR (29.7) of any starter in this Hall however he was dominant for a short period of time. Wood had a WAR of 10.4 in 1912 and led the Red Sox to a World Series Championship while doing so. He finished his brief career (1434.1 IP) with an ERA of 2.03. That’s an ERA+ of 147.  Wood could also hit, he added an additional 10.7 wins with his bat.

1920-1946 (Pitchers who started their careers between 1920-1946)

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I added three players from this era (Pierce, Bridges, Ferrell), and removed three as well (Lemon, Gomez, Ruffing).

Wes Ferrell was arguably the best hitting pitcher ever to play. In 1345 PA’s he finished with a slash line of .280/.351/.446. His batting WAR IS 12.8. Add that to his pitching WAR of 48.8 and you get a 61.6 win player.

Tommy Bridges is perhaps best known for giving up Babe Ruth’s 700th career home run; he deserves better recognition than that. Bridges led the American League in strikeouts twice and was a key contributor on two World Series winning teams (35 &45). His ERA+ of 126 is comfortably above the Hall of Fame average (for starters) of 122.

Billy Pierce was overshadowed by the three great lefties of his era. Pierce actually passes the gray ink test; he has some black ink on his resume too. In 1953 he led the American league in WAR for pitchers (6.3), strikeouts (186), K/9 (6.2), and H/9 (7.2). In 1955 he led the American League in WAR for pitchers (6.9), ERA (1.97), ERA+ (200), and WHIP (1.099).

Modern: (Starting pitchers who started their careers after MLB integrated in 1947)

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Modern players, especially pitchers, are underrepresented in the actual Hall of Fame. This Hall corrects that, so that’s good.

I removed one starter from this era (Hunter) and added fourteen (Clemens, Schilling, Brown, Reuschel, Tiant, John, Cone, Saberhagen, Koosman, Stieb, Wood, Hershiser, Gooden, Guidry).

Roger Clemens hired Brian McNamee in 1998. McNamee of course claims to have provided Clemens with steroids and HGH shortly thereafter. Here are Roger’s numbers through the 1997 season. 213-118, 2.97 ERA, that’s an ERA+ of 149. He had 2992 K’s in 3040 innings pitched. His WAR (Baseball-Reference) was 93.2 and his WAA was 65.5. Those were his numbers before he met Brian McNamee. He was already one of the greatest pitchers of all time before he allegedly started using. For the record, I think he did use and I think it helped him later in his career. I also think a Hall of Fame without Roger Clemens or Barry Bonds is incomplete, absurd, and lacks credibility.

This Hall has no character clause. Clemens was one of the first guys I put in.

Curt Schilling ranks 26th all time using Baseball-Reference’s WAR for pitchers. On FanGraphs he’s 18th. Curt Schilling is one of the best pitchers ever to play. He should have cruised into the Hall his first year on the ballot. He didn’t mainly because of fours reasons. 1) He suffers from comparison to his contemporaries Clemens, Johnson, Maddux and Pedro. 2) The “sniff test”. 3) His career win total (216). 4) He has the reputation of a blowhard and self promoting douche. None of those things are valid reasons to keep Schilling out of the Hall of Fame.  He’s comfortably a tier two player who should be considered an obvious Hall of Famer.

Kevin Brown was named in the Mitchell Report and those guys are not getting into the Hall of Fame. However, there is a disconnect between Brown’s actual value and his perceived value. 12.5% of Hall of Fame voters still voted for Sammy Sosa, PEDs and all. Brown fell off the ballot his first year on it getting just 2.1% of the vote. Brown was at least as good a pitcher as Sosa was a hitter but the sniff test tells you otherwise. Pitchers are underrepresented in the Hall of Fame. They’re held to a higher standard. Modern pitchers are even sparser in the Hall of Fame. That’s not good. This big Hall corrects those issues.

In 1984 Dwight Gooden struck out 276 batters in 218 innings. He led the National League in WHIP (1.073) and posted a WAR of 5.5. He was a rookie and just nineteen years old. The following season Gooden posted a WAR of 12.1. The best single season (by Baseball-Reference WAR) for any pitcher since integration (1947). For a variety of reasons Gooden’s performance declined after his historic 1985 season. Drug abuse wreaked havoc on his career, PEDs were coming into the game, and he was likely fatigued from being overworked when we was younger.  Even though he falls short of Hall of Fame standards, at his best Gooden was as good as any pitcher the game has ever seen. I asked this about Dale Murphy when I looked at position players, I’ll ask the same about Dwight Gooden here. What are we actually accomplishing by keeping players like that out of the Hall of Fame? I think the best answer is…not much.

Despite this big Hall some notable pitchers still didn’t make the cut. They include Jack Morris, Dennis Martinez, David Wells, Jim Kaat, and Frank Tanana. Here’s a look at why.

Player

WAR

WAA

ERA+

David Wells

53.5

21.9

108

Frank Tanana

57.5

19.9

106

Dennis Martinez

49.5

14.9

106

Jack Morris

43.8

9.6

105

Jim Kaat

45.3

7.8

108

 

They all fall short on peak value and were all just slightly above average at run prevention. The reason why some of these guys have gotten such strong for support for the Hall is because of their career win totals which range from 239-283.

I don’t care about wins. No statistic tells you less about a player’s actual value than pitcher wins. All of those guys have more wins than Pedro Martinez and Sandy Koufax. Does anyone think they were better pitchers than those guys? They weren’t.

I put Wells on this list even though he has received little to no Hall of Fame consideration. He fell off the ballot his first year on it receiving just 0.9% percent of the vote. Look at his numbers compared to the other guys; he was the same caliber of pitcher if not better. It’s just the sniff test getting in the way of reality, which happens all too often.

I felt like putting one of those players in would mean I would have to include the entire cluster and I didn’t feel comfortable doing that. They were all good, durable pitchers who were never truly great for an extended period of time. I favor the peak performers.

Relievers:

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I didn’t change much here. I removed Bruce Sutter and replaced him with Lee Smith. The averages and medians are distorted in this group by Eckersley who accumulated much of his value as a starter. He was inducted because of his time as a closer so he’s on the list but 41.8 is way too high of a standard for relievers.

The Negro Leaguers:

Although WAR & WAA statistics are not available for the Negro League pitchers it’s important to recognize them as well. I didn’t add or remove anyone because I don’t feel informed enough to do so. With these great players that brings the total pitchers in this Hall to 87.

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The Full lists:

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So, this big Hall has 77 pitchers enshrined for their MLB playing careers. The actual hall has 62. I removed 14 pitchers (13 starters, 1 reliever) and added 29 I felt were deserving. Doing so actually increased the standards. The average WAR of the 62 pitchers in the Hall of Fame is 69.0. The average WAR of the 77 pitchers in this Hall is 69.7. The average WAA of the 62 actual Hall of Famers is 35.0. This group of 77 averages 37.7. More players, higher standards, that’s great. However, part of the reason I was able to maintain or slightly increase the overall standards is because I removed actual Hall of Famers and the Hall of Fame is not about to kick any of its members out.

They shouldn’t.

Every player, even those I would classify as egregious mistakes, represents a time, place, and an often flawed voting process. Several former players, managers, and sportswriters got together and put Herb Pennock in. Was that a mistake? Of course! Whether it was by cronyism, ignorance, a flawed voting process, or a combination of all of the above, he got in. Kicking him out now wouldn’t actually accomplish anything; I think it might actually diminish the achievement to living Hall of Famers. Think about it; if you’re Bruce Sutter and you see 12 guys get booted out, don’t you wonder if you will still be in 50 years from now? Wouldn’t that take away some of the prestige? I think it might.

The Hall could get around this by reclassifying certain groups of players and making the museum more of a living exhibit. Joe Posnanski proposed a “Hall of 100” that constantly evolves. Recognize the 100 players in the Hall and over time as more information becomes available and the voting group changes; the rankings would also change. Obviously the all-time greats like Ruth and Mays will always be top 100, but maybe someone like Whitey Ford falls out as someone like Greg Maddux gets added. Ford wouldn’t get kicked out of the actual Hall he just wouldn’t get recognized as a top 100 Hall of Famer. I love this system!

Since the Hall of Fame isn’t about to kick any of its members out, I wondered what the average WAR would be if you simply added the 29 pitchers I selected without removing anyone (91 players 84 SP/6 RP). It drops slightly to 65.8 (from 69.0). The average WAA also would drop slightly to 34.2 (from 37.7). That’s it. To put that in perspective only 59 pitchers have a career WAR of 60 or higher. Andy Pettitte should become the 60th by the end of the season.

This is my take at a bigger Hall. I’ll admit there are some names on this list that still make me cringe a bit but looking at this Hall compared to the actual Hall of Fame, I prefer this one. How about you? Looking at this Hall compared to my first “Personal Hall of Fame” with 174 players (position players included) I’ll take this big Hall too. Although I admittedly still see the appeal of a smaller Hall.

What if the Hall of Fame was bigger? Eras and positions would be represented more evenly and there would be a steady flow of players going to Cooperstown. I think those are good things. How about you?

In part three of this series I’ll take a look at the retried but not yet eligible players who will make it to this bigger Hall, and a few that still will not.

Follow me on twitter @RossCarey

Originally posted 7/6/13

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